Goodbye 2017

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I know you’re sitting in front of your computer (tablet, smart phone) breathlessly waiting for your favorite blogger to give you some words of wisdom to take you into the new year.  That’s a lot of responsibility you’re putting on me and, frankly, I’m not sure I’m up to it.

There are a lot of places you can go to get inspired but you’ve chosen to come here so I guess I owe it to you to give it my best shot.  After all, I’ve been watching the Hallmark Channel almost nonstop since Thanksgiving.  I should be very inspired.  Let me say something in passing about the folks at Hallmark TV.  Like the Catholic Church, they don’t consider December 25 to be the end of the Christmas season.  They continue to run Christmas movies.  And even though they’re all the same movie, with the same plot, they’re Christmas movies all the same.

So, let me start my end-of-the-year diatribe with a few words about the Christmas season.  Holy Mother Church divides the year into seasons.  The Church year begins with the first Sunday of Advent.  This year that was December 3.  So right away we’re out of sync with the rest of the world.

Advent is always four weeks long so this year the last Sunday of Advent was December 24, which was also Christmas Eve, the BEGINNING of the Christmas season.  Today, Sunday, December 31 is the Feast of the Holy Family.  It’s also secular New Years Eve.

The following Sunday, January 7 is the Feast of the Epiphany and the next day, Monday the 8th wdead christmas treee celebrate the  Baptism of the Lord.  That’s the end of the Christmas season.  You can finally take down that tree that’s been up since the first of November.

But don’t get too comfortable with Ordinary√ Time this year.  We’ll just barely get the green vestments out and it will be time for the purple of Lent.  Ash Wednesday, 2018, is on February 14, Valentines Day.  Six weeks of Lent (and fish fries) and it will be Easter again.

So that’s your lesson on the Church calendar but it’s hardly the words of wisdom you’ve been waiting for so I’m going to borrow something from Father Z’s blog.  (If you don’t follow Father  Z, you should).  Today Father Z reminds us that a plenary indulgence is available to us both today and tomorrow.

You may ask “what is an indulgence?”  And indulgence is the release from temporal punishment for your sins.  Just because you’ve been forgiven in the sacrament of reconciliation you still have to be cleansed from your sins before you can get into heaven.  That’s what we call purgatory and an indulgence (partial) can reduce your time in purgatory while a plenary indulgence wipes your slate clean.  Here’s how you can obtain a plenary indulgence today.

  1.  Go to confession and received communion within a reasonable time (20 days)
  2. Recite or sing the Te Deum..
  3. Pray for the Pope’s intentions.  (One Our Father and one Hail Mary)
  4. Detest and detach yourself from even venial sins.

We can also receive a plenary indulgence tomorrow (January 1) by the singing or recitation of the Veni Creator Spiritus plus the other three things above.

So I guess giving you a way to cut some time off your stay in purgatory, even if it’s not wise, it’s certainly helpful.

Have a safe and blessed January 1.  Be careful out there and stay warm.

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Advent Turns into Christmas

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They say that if you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your long-range plans.  This week has certainly proven that to be true.  Last week at this time I had all kinds of things that  I was going to post for the fourth week of  Advent.  It would have been awesome!  Then, last Saturday I went out with some of my adult kids and some of my grandchildren.  We were watching a Christmas parade and waiting to cross the street to go to lunch.  The next thing I knew, I was laying flat on my back on the sidewalk.  My legs just gave out on me.

As I lay there on the sidewalk I realized that all these people I didn’t know were helping me to get back on my feet (with a lot of help from a light pole that kept me from falling right back where I had been).  Lesson number 1 was that there are a lot of good people in the world.  Total strangers had stopped their celebration to help me.  People are basically good.  And God is great!

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, my adult kids and daughter-in-law insisted (demanded) that I go to the hospital.  All I wanted to do was go to lunch, but it wasn’t to be.  My lovely and talented wife poured me into the car and delivered me to the emergency room.  It would turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

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Let me say here that I have a lot of respect for doctors and the work they do.  Over the last few years, I’ve had to opportunity to meet a lot of them.  See the thing is, specialists specialize.  They each try to frame your illness in terms of their specialty.  That’s what they know and that’s the way it is.  On the other hand, ER docs are more inclined to look at the big picture.  The first thing they did to me in the Emergency Room was order a CAT scan, something none of my “team” of specialists had never done.  It turns out the trouble has been mostly in my head, literally.

Lesson number 2, what looks like a problem may turn out to be a blessing.  I’ll be going in for surgery in January which may solve a lot of my health issues.  I have something called hydrocephalus I never did get lunch.

To make a short story long, I spent three days in the hospital and my week of clever Advent posts went right out the window. Thank God for my daughter who finished my Christmas shopping for me and even wrapped everything.  And thank God for family members who are smarter than I am.  If I’d had my way I would have gone to lunch and gone home not knowing what was going on in my head.  Lesson number 3, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

So, I’ll sum up with this one Advent/Christmas offering.  The weeks of waiting are over.  Tonight our Savior comes.  What an awesome occasion.  I’ve returned to my home parish and I can’t wait for Christmas mass.  This year will be extra special, not that every Christmas isn’t extra special.  We have a God who’s so wonderful, so loving, that He sent His only Son to become one of us!  Thanks to this great gift we can look forward to an eternity in paradise!

We buried a friend of mine yesterday.  Who could ask for a better Christmas gift than to be free from pain and earthly worries and be on our way to heaven?   Prayers go out to his family, but I believe that they understand that death is just a beginning.  Yesterday’s funeral was truly a celebration of life!  We have no idea what God has in store for us.

I’m going to close this with the wish that you and your families have a peaceful and blessed Christmas.  Thank you for reading Deaconcast and I hope you’ll continue to check in.  I have some exciting plans for 2018, but you can see what sometimes happens to plans.  God’s plan is the only one that counts and we have no idea what that may be.  Our job is to continually pray for knowledge of His plan for us and for the power to make it happen.

Joy to the World, the Lord is Come!

December 6–The Feast of Saint Nicholas

Today we remember Saint Nicholas.  He lived in present-day Turkey from 270 to 343.  Nicholas was present at the Council of Nicea where he signed the Nicene Creed in 323.

Saint Nicolas was known for his secret gift-giving, including leaving coins in children’s shoes which led to our modern celebration of Saint Nicholas Day on December 6.  The legend of Nicholas spread northward to Holland and came to New York with the Dutch settlers.  Eventually, the legend morphed into Santa Claus and associated with Christmas.

But gifts and money are still given in some areas on December 6.  So, leave your shoes out tonight.  Who knows?  You might get some gifts.

Monday of the 1st Week of Advent

Yesterday the Pope had this to say:

“Today we begin the journey of Advent, which will culminate in Christmas. Advent is the time that is given to us to welcome the Lord who comes to meet us, to verify our desire for God, to look ahead and prepare ourselves for Christ’s return. He will return to us on the feast of Christmas, when we will remember His historical coming in the humility of the human condition; however, He comes within us every time we are disposed to receive Him, and He will come again at the end of time to “judge the living and the dead.” Therefore, we must always be vigilant and wait for the Lord with the hope of meeting Him.”

As we begin our Advent journey, Jesus reminds us in our Sunday Gospel to watch.  Isn’t that what Advent’s all about?  We watch for Jesus’ coming.  We don’t let external distractions keep us from our Advent mission of preparing for Him to come on Christmas.  In a word, to watch.

The Feast of All Saints

Are you a minimalist Christian?

You’ve heard the expression “It’s the least I can do.”  I wonder how many of us approach our faith with this expression as our “mission statement”.  What’s the least I can do to get into heaven?

The best example I can think of of this attitude is the question priests and deacons hear all the time regarding Saturday wedding masses.  “Does this count?”  Count??  Count for what?  Of course, we know what they’re asking.  “If I go to this wedding, do I have to go to mass on Sunday?  The bride and groom are going to have a great party and I’d really rather not get up on Sunday morning.”  They’re asking if the Saturday wedding fulfills their “Sunday obligation.

First, let me say I hate the term “Sunday obligation.”  Paying your taxes is an obligation.  Going to work every day is an obligation.  Contributing to the support of the Church is an obligation.  Worshipping the Lord IS NOT AN OBLIGATION.  It’s something we do out of love for our Creator.  Were you listening to the Gospel this Sunday.  “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your soul, with all your heart, and with all your mind.”

Loving with all your heart is not a minimalist concept.  We have to give Him everything, including our time.  The short answer to the above question is almost always NO.  God works outside of time.  Your so-called Sunday obligation is judged by the week’s readings, not by the time you showed up.  If you didn’t hear the readings for the Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time, you didn’t attend last week’s mass.

Make no mistake, if you love the Lord God, “with all your soul, with all your heart, and with all your mind,” then the concept of a “Sunday obligation” should have no meaning to you.  You should attend mass every Sunday (or Saturday evening) because you want to be there.  What part of the word “all” do you not understand?

Today is All Saints Day, a Holy Day of Obligation.  There’s that word again.  Do you go to mass today out of some sense of obligation, or do you go because you venerate the saints and want to pay tribute to them?  The Church has watered down the concept of Holy Days by moving some of them to Sunday but they are still holy days.  (small h and d)

Advent is coming and Christmas isn’t far behind.  This might be a good time to review your attitude toward the Lord.  The commercials for Christmas stuff have already started.  Let’s not let the commercialism of our Lord’s birthday get in the way of our love for Him.  I’ll say it one more time,

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your soul, with all your heart, and with all your mind.”  Now, if you haven’t gone to mass today, turn off your computer and get going.

Baptism of the Lord

Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord by John the Baptist. We’ve heard the story lots of times. John’s baptizing at the river and Jesus gets in line along with everyone else. But, why? He was the Son of God. He came down from heaven and would soon go back. Why did He need to baptized? And why do we commemorate it today?

 

First, the answer is that He didn’t need it. Jesus didn’t need to be baptized, but you and I needed Him to be baptized. Saint Maximus of Turin, one of the Church Fathers, wrote “Christ is baptized, not to be made holy by the water, but to make the water holy.”

 

If you remember your grade school science you know that water evaporates, forms clouds, and returns to earth. The cycle repeats itself over and over. The wind blows the clouds so that the water that evaporates in one place comes down somewhere else. Eventually every drop of water on earth is connected to every other drop. When Jesus made the water of the Jordan holy, he made all water holy.

 

Obviously Jesus thought baptism was very important. In John’s Gospel He said, “Unless a man is reborn in water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” In Matthew’s Gospel he tells the Apostles, “Go, make disciples of all nations, and baptize them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Baptism is our response to Christ.

Jesus died and rose from the dead to defeat death, to save all of us from our sins. But what He does today makes it possible for us individually to be one of his people. Baptism is the beginning of our journey of faith. Jesus’ seemingly unnecessary decision to be baptized by John, someone “not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals”, is actually the beginning of OUR journey of faith.

 

So, why do we celebrate Jesus’ baptism today? Today is officially the end of the Christmas season. Over the last few weeks we’ve celebrated Advent, the time to prepare for Christ’s coming. Then we celebrated His birth on Christmas and the Feast of the Holy Family on the following weekend.

 

On January 1 we celebrated Mary, the Mother of God followed by the feast of the Epiphany last weekend. We end this holy season by remembering the great gift Jesus gave us; the gift of baptism. In it’s own way, this feast is extremely important and it’s appropriate that we celebrate it at the end of the Christmas season.

 

This year there’s a very short time between Christmas and Lent. Ash Wednesday is February 10, just a month away. But it’s a long month. The days are short. The weather’s not so great. It’s easy to get discouraged and to forget the blessings of the season that ends today.   But the feast we celebrate today reminds us that this isn’t the end. It’s the beginning of our life in Christ.

 

Chances are most of us were baptized as infants. Our parents and godparents stood in for us in making our baptismal promises. But those promises, promises we made to God, are just as valid today as they were on our baptismal day.

 

As baptized Christians we reject Satan, all his works, and all his empty promises. That’s what Satan does. He makes us empty promises. “Do this and this will happen.” But we should know by now that his promises aren’t worth the paper they’re not written on. And we, or our parents speaking on our behalf, promise to reject those promises. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. Today, in lieu of the Creed, I’ve asked Father to lead us in renewing these promises.

 

Let’s let today be a reminder that we’re all part of God’s family, His children and brothers and sisters of His Son. We share baptism with Jesus. Water didn’t make Him holy. He made the water holy and by doing that, He made us holy.

 

After Jesus had been baptized heaven opened up and a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son and with you I am well pleased.” I don’t know about you, but when I meet God face to face, I hope to hear those same words.

 

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Today we celebrate the solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Some of the special days in our calendar are called “feasts” and some are “solemnities”. What’s the difference? A solemnity is ranked much higher than a mere feast. According to Catholic Answers, “a solemnity is the highest ranking feast. These commemorate an event in the life of Jesus, Mary or the Apostles central to the Christian faith. The celebration of mass on a Solemnity includes proper readings, the singing of the Gloria and the recitation of the creed.”

 

There are a lot of rules regarding solemnities that you really don’t need to know, but the main thing you do need to know is that part about commemorating an event in the lives of Jesus, Mary, or the Apostles that’s central to our faith. So, why is this celebration, just one week after Christmas, central to the faith?

 

It’s the day that the shepherds came to Bethlehem to see the Baby Jesus. Notice that the shepherds “went in haste”. In 2016 we don’t have a lot of contact with shepherds. We don’t know much about them. But one thing we do know is that the don’t go anywhere “in haste”. They spend their days hanging out with sheep, not known to be speedy animals. Shepherd is a pretty low-key job. But here we have them hurrying to Bethlehem to see this little baby. Something important was going on here.

When they got there, they told Mary and Joseph what the angels had told them. Luke says, “All who heard their story were amazed!” What was so amazing? Well, the story itself was pretty outrageous. But the fact that the angels had delivered this message to these sheep herders, the absolute lowest rung on the social ladder was even more amazing. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

 

Then Luke tells us that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Mary was the central player in the greatest event in the history of the world. Everything that had happened to her in the last nine months had to be pretty overwhelming. She wasn’t an educated girl. She was a young girl from a small town whose life had been turned upside-down and I’m sure she spent many hours reflecting on what had happened.

 

She knew from the time that Gabriel had visited her that she was going to give birth to the Messiah. The angel had also visited Joseph and told him what was to come. On Christmas night Mary gave birth to the Son of God. She knew it. Joseph knew it. So what makes the visit of the shepherds an event “central to our Christian faith”? What makes it a “solemnity”? Why do we have to go to mass on New Years Eve (day)?

 

I think it goes back to the shepherds. Over the centuries, God has chosen the most surprising people to deliver His message. Look around at the statues of the saints in our chapel. There are a couple of kings, and Saint Michael, the Archangel. But for the most part they were ordinary people. Yet God chose them to be His messengers. The first in this long line of ordinary messengers were those shepherds.

 

Why didn’t the angels appear to somebody important; somebody with some influence; somebody who didn’t smell like a sheep? The most obvious answer is because the shepherds lived a quiet life. They were available to hear the message. They listened. Then, when they had received the message they went “in haste” to Bethlehem. It may have been the first time in their lives that they hurried anywhere.

 

If the shepherds were the first New Testament messengers, and if all these saints were messengers, then who are His messengers today? Take a look at the person sitting next to you. Better yet, take a look in the mirror. That’s where you’ll find His twenty-first century messengers. It’s you and me. We’re called to spread the Good News of the Gospel in this place and time. And, like the shepherds, we’d better hurry! There’s no time to waste!

 

If we’re not just as amazed by this story as the people who heard it first-hand from the shepherds, then we haven’t been paying attention. In the first reading the Lord told Moses to bless Aaron and his sons saying, “The lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”

 

“Let His face shine upon you.” Nobody had ever seen God’s face. How could the Lord let his face shine upon them? That’s what this solemnity is all about. Now God has a face! It’s the face of a little baby lying in a manger. And the shepherds couldn’t wait to see it. This is what the world’s been waiting for for centuries. It’s an event that’s central to our faith.

 

The all-powerful God has chosen to show Himself to us in the form of a little baby. Halleluia!

 

On this day when we celebrate this awesome event, and on a day when we celebrate the changing of the secular calendar to a new year, we should keep in mind our neighbors who are suffering greatly from the recent rains and the catastrophic flooding. Please keep them in your prayers and, do what you can to help them. We will be taking up a second collection today and at both masses this weekend to help our neighbors. Please be generous, as you always are.